In the Pepsi Center on Sunday, the signs — real and figurative — seemed to mock the Avalanche. NBA playoff banners adorned the hallways and the expanded postseason media setups, remindful of how the building was configured when the Avalanche advanced deep into the playoffs and drew truly international coverage, remained in place.
The home crowd again was sparse.
In the press box, pictures of the franchise's glory days increasingly serve as head shake- inducing reminders of how different it was, and how spoiled Colorado was, in the opening years of the state's second NHL stint.
Mercifully, after Colorado's 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues, the Avalanche was down to only one home game remaining. "We know it's been a disappointing season so far," Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog said. "But we at least want to finish off strong so we can train hard in the summer and come out with a fresh outlook for next season. We know that we haven't played to our capabilities this season, but we haven't given up on ourselves. We're so appreciative of everyone coming out and still cheering us on."
Yet for the fourth time in five seasons, there will be no NHL playoff hockey in Denver. Despite the occasional signs that most of these guys haven't packed it in or packed yet for Las Vegas, Colorado is 29th in the 30-team NHL, and it has gotten to the point where looking ahead means learning the technicalities of the NHL draft lottery and rooting for the Avalanche to Stink for Seth.
Stink enough to maximize the chances of landing prized 18-year-old defenseman Seth Jones, who was 5 years old when his father, Popeye, played a season for the Nuggets and asked Joe Sakic, in effect: If my son wants to play hockey, what should he do?
In the glory days, even the son of an NBA player could be caught up in the magic.
Know what this is now? It's sad, at least relatively speaking, within the realm of the diversionary world of entertainment and sports. It's sad because having Colorado in the spotlight of the international hockey fascination was, well, a lot of fun. That's un- sophisticated and it's even "unobjective" of me to admit that, but it's true. I miss those days too.
I've addressed the issues involved many times, and I'm far from alone. Moving ahead, it has to start with a blunt self-assessment from a Kroenke ownership that you'd hope would be determined to combat its image as operating on the cheap — the relatively cheap in a world of outlandishly high finance — in all sports endeavors but the NBA.
If the Kroenkes, especially Josh, can honestly conclude that: a) ownership has not hamstrung the hockey operation, from president Pierre Lacroix and general manager Greg Sherman on down; and, b) that the Avalanche's ineptitude is because of bad management and worse judgments, then, absolutely, the grace period has lapsed. It's time to call a news conference and say, look, the glory years were great, but this ... is ... not ... working; and it's time to clean out the entire front office and remaining coaching staff and start anew. Let La- croix step further into retirement while offering considerable gratitude, and overhaul everything.
But ... and again, this requires honesty when looking in the mirrors. If ownership has been tying the hands of the hockey operation, cleaning house wouldn't be fair — not yet — and it wouldn't help unless that approach changes.
Give this regime one more season and give it the resources to have a fair chance to show progress. Dismissal of all of this as mere speed bumps in the rebuilding and changing neither ownership attitude nor management personnel would be the biggest joke of all.
Terry Frei: 303-954-1895, tfrei@ denverpost.com or twitter.com/ TFOlympicAffair